I will not fear death

Somethings must pass in life. A loved one, a moment, an eternity. We live our lives thinking that the day to day is all we know, not knowing that there are tiny and large moments that become the paragraphs, chapters and novels of our lives.

I was privileged the opportunity to explore the last chapter of a great building in Hamilton, before the new novel is written.

These are her words.

Pull up and have a seat, dear one.
Stay awhile.
Do not trouble yourself, there are paths everywhere.
Make good friends and they will treat you like gold.
I am ugly, but I am also beautiful.
They know not what they don’t see.
But you have eyes and ears, so I will tell you this story.
Even the secret ones. But maybe not all of them.
There is activity going on. We are preparing for a new phase of life.
Be careful.
There are dangers here.
And new to you, but old familiar friends, as well.
Try not to touch the buttons.
And may your travels be safe and filled with light.
Take a souvenir. The exit is by the gift shop.
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Life: A Cautionary Tale


Joshua ReynoldsRecovery from Sickness, an Allegory

On the eve of International Women’s Day, I present you, ladies and gentlemen, a cautionary tale of how to get, and stay, sick.

Look at yourself. Look at your life. Look at the people who surround you. Look at the food that you eat, the drinks that you drink, the smoke that you smoke, the air that you breathe. Is it good for you? Is it bad for you? How much of it can you have? How much is too much? You’d be surprised by how subtle the difference can be and how sick it can make you.

I was sick for so long. Longer than it would even appear. And I am not healthy to this day (I still have a chill in my feet as I write this), but I get closer and closer to the picture of perfect health as I can with each passing day. I may never reach it, but I can always strive.

What I said and what I did when I was sick might have been because I was sick. Does that sound familiar to you? Think of the malice and greed and discontent that you see in the world and the Internet. Is it maybe just because you’re reading or hearing the words or seeing the actions of a sick person? They may not even know they’re sick. The Internet sure as shit doesn’t know it’s sick, but it is. It needs to get better and maybe it will or maybe there will still be cancerous cells floating around in the system, but the only thing we can do is try. Because, dear reader,  you might be surprised to know but, the Internet is us. It is our collective unconscious made form into an interconnected network of digital synapses. We are in each others’ brains every day. And that can be exhausting. I bet you’re exhausted just reading this.

The trick is to know the space between wellness and sickness. How close are you to the one over the latter? Do not fear either because you might not even feel particularly sick if you are. And if you do, I sincerely wish you the speediest and fastest and completest return to wellness. And, please, if you see a sick person say something sick on the internet, feel free to say something about it but, for the love of God, be kind.

Happy International Women’s Day 2017, 2016, 2013, 2010

2018 in Books

2018-in-books

Here we are – 2018 has fast departed. As the last days trickled away, I read finished Reading Lolita in Tehran, which was the hardest book I read in 2018. I pressed on, knowing that the effort would be worth it. It was sad and angry and uplifting all at the same time. 

Reading has been my balm in this rocky careen towards the end of the second decade in the 21st century. It wasn’t always easy to disappear into a book; sometimes the effort was just too much and I chose instead to binge watch all of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Voyager, and now I’m on Deep Space 9. I also binged Bojack Horseman this year. Most noteworthy: I learned how to knit socks while binge watching said shows (mostly Bojack and DS9). My attempt at a shawl did not turn out. That’s okay, onward.

Goals for 2018:

  1. Read 50 books.
  2. Only women.
  3. Half pre-2000, half-post.
  4. Review them on the Punnery.

I read 56 books in 2018. 3 of them were written by men. I did pretty alright, I think. Most of them were written after 2000, though. And I didn’t review any books on the Punnery. I barely wrote anything on the Punnery, yet again.

It’s hard for me to write anything these days. Maybe one could say that this is a writer’s block, but I would call this writer’s rage. I’m so incensed that I just shut down. I turn on Netflix, or I open a book, and I don’t think about it. I grab a ball of yarn and start making something while I watch something inconsequential on a tiny screen.

I read not to learn – but to escape from the drone of everyday. Anxiety, depression, the constant disappointment of other people and the futility of that which you cannot stop.

What did I read this year?

So I read a lot of fluffy stuff this year; like Amy Schumer‘s “memoir” and The Greatest Love Story Ever Told by a couple of sitcom actors and Anne Rice‘s The Witching Hour, 500 pages of solid nineties incestuous drama. But I also read Dauphne du Maurier‘s unsettling The Birds, starring a very stoic man and not Tippi Hedren and everything by Nora Ephron collected into one book, including Heartburn, her novella about her own failed marriage, and rupi kaur‘s milk & honey, which feels like a mirror in front of all of us, and Harper Lee‘s Go Set a Watchman, which was never supposed to come out, but I’m glad it did. I read my first novel by a trans artist, jia qing wilson-yang. I learned that Patti Smith watches way too many situational crime shows when she travels in M Train. I read Roxane Gay‘s Hunger and I saw myself. I read The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill and I saw it as a movie.

This year I learned Maeve Binchy is the perfect writer when you don’t want to care about the rest of the world. I read more than one Maeve Binchy novel this year and I’m on my third one right now. Thank you, Maeve Binchy.

I only read a few graphic novels this year. Sabrina by Nick Drnaso, which was about a woman’s senseless death; and I caught up on Marguerite Abouet‘s Aya series set in West Africa, which I wish there were more of; and I met Jillian Tamaki this year. Plus Patti Laboucane-Benson‘s circle of reconciliation.

DNFs

I never finished Elizabeth Rosner‘s Survivor Cafe nor David Yaffe‘s Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell. Sorry.

This year I won’t constrain myself to only one gender. I’m going to continue reading to escape reality. But I’m also going to strive to write as well as read – because this is where my living occurs. When I put my fingers to the keyboard, I am reminded that I am alive, too. Maybe I’m not a fiction writer, but I see things, too. This is why the Punnery exists – to be my perspective. I wrote elsewhere, or I didn’t write at all. I simply simmered and then lost myself in books or knitting and Netflix. 

Goals for 2019

  1. Read more than 50 books this year
  2. Write, write, write on the Punnery

I am afraid. I’m committing myself to something I am not sure I can do because for years I would commit myself and then quietly drop off the face of the earth. What makes this year any different than the last? I suppose that’s what time will tell. 

Previous years: 2017/2016, 2015201420132012

On Joy and Sorrow

Author’s Note: This was written likely in 2013 or 2014, shortly after my father’s passing. I found it recently and wanted to share it because it’s still true. 

On a cool, clear Friday evening I found myself in the warren of side streets around Chinatown looking for a small church. I was distracted though and walked past it at first, but managed to find it just the same, tucked away off from the sidewalk. I was greeted with handshakes and smiles. The alter and pews were decorated with Christmas regalia. The wood gave off a warm glow, like a blanket in front of a fireplace. I was there to hear gospel music.

As the choir began singing, I could feel the tears already brimming in my eyes. I knew this would happen. I was warned by my friend who invited me and I knew from past experience that music is a powerful stimulus for me. But I was not expecting to cry the whole way through the concert. The choir members must have seen the wild look on my face, a mixture of consternation etched across my brow as the tears streamed down and a twisted smile on my lips. I was truly happy to be there, to hear them sing such powerfully joyous music.

My friend and I walked home together, through the UofT campus. It was a quiet and distraction-free stroll that allowed us to talk about the sort of things that friends get to talk about when they’re finally left in the privacy of a trusted confidante.

I was upset that I had cried so much through the concert. It seems these days it’s harder for me to compose myself when these events occur. I’ve never been particularly good at keeping the waterworks away. I distinctly remember a grade four teacher telling me I should learn to be less sensitive. Thanks, you emotional haranguer.

My friend said something that made so much sense. She said there is only one opening in our bodies for both joy and sorrow and when one comes out, the other rushes out with it.

In my grieving process, so much sorrow has come out, and still continues to come out. And when I open myself up to something joyous–like music–I am particularly vulnerable. I have been moved to tears sitting at open jams listening to the same silly songs I always hear.

Today I played this video of Hey Rosetta!’s Carry Me Home and halfway through the song I began to sob uncontrollably. I’m still sniffling right now. Instead of stifling it, I let it out, though. I did not stop it. I sobbed. I let it all come out. Because I can’t keep it inside. I just can’t. To keep it inside would mean that I am tamping down my joy as well. And if that means I have these horribly inappropriate crying jags every now and then, so be it. Cause eventually the balance will change. By getting all of that sorrow out, I am making room for joy.

Today I did a little research into this idea of sorrow and joy emerging from the same place and came across this poem by Khalil Gibran, one of my sister’s favourite poets. I think it speaks ten million times more eloquently than my long-winded ass ever could. Reading it brings me to tears again, so you know what? I think it speaks the truth.

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Art by Zhong Yang Huang

On Joy and Sorrow from The Prophet by Khalil Gibran

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

Some of you say, “Joy is greater thar sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits, alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.

Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.
When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.

Don’t Weigh Me Down

A few years ago I wrote about my oxen. Those beautiful beasts that plod ever onward, driving me forward into the frontier of my life.

There’s my damn oxen again, still not giving a damn that I want to keep moving forward. Not pictured: all the stuff inside that wagon that’s tiring out the poor dears.

My tenacity isn’t this relentless steam engine, sloughing off problems like a cowcatcher through the thickest snow. It’s more like an ox-wagon trudging slowly into unknown territory. Sometimes those damned oxen are lazy and won’t be made to go faster by whip or insult. Sometimes they damn near stop altogether. But eventually they get going again. Eventually they pick up the pace. Eventually things get back into a groove. – International Women’s Day 2016

In the nearly two years since I wrote those words, I have tenaciously moved forward. I have written a business plan, improved my income, bought a car, and moved into my own apartment again, among the myriad of smaller, tinier little gains that I can’t even put into words. In that time I’ve also shed a lot of possessions. Books, furniture, appliances, clothing, and countless pairs of shoes. Items still pop into my head randomly from time to time – where the hell did that thing go? Didn’t I pack that away? What ever became of …

What I’ve come to realize is that all of that was just extra weight, slowing my oxen down. No wonder we get stuck in the mud so often – we’re too heavy! So yes, this is the year of simpler living because I finally recognize that some of this stuff that I’ve been dragging through the mud with me is unnecessarily weighing me down. I’ve been holding onto it, letting it take up too much of my much-needed space – space that can be better filled with new ideas, dreams, memories, and hey, yeah, maybe some souvenirs along the way. I’m a sucker for a nice keychain.

2017 in Books

Another year, another collection of books.

I missed putting together my 2016 year in books so here’s a quick round up courtesy of my Goodreads account:

  1. I read a lot of Deadpool comics.
  2. I read more women writers.
  3. I read two books of poetry (Czeslaw Milowsz and Leonard Cohen)
  4. I discovered a new (to me) mystery writer and series: Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce.
  5. I reread part of the Harry Potter series.
  6. In total I read 61 books, flying past my goal of 50. I credit the comics for a large part of that.

My goals were:

  • I would like to read more female writers. (24/61)
  • I’d also like to read more poetry. Poetry is like cake. It has to be savored. (Mmm, I guess I’m not very partial to cake? I read two books of poetry.)
  • I’d like to continue mining the classics, such as Edith Wharton, Jane Austen, and Charles Dickens. (Henry James, Robertson Davies, L.M. Montgomery, William Faulkner, Edith Wharton, Simone de Beauvoir, and Virginia Woolf all graced my 2016 shelves, so yes, I did that.)
  • I’d like to read more musical biographies/autobiographies. (3 – Patti Smith, Carole King, and Amanda Palmer.)
  • I’d like to read 50 books, surpassing my 44 of this year. (61/50!)

Since I did not have any new goals for 2017, I’m going to take the same lens I used for 2016 to review who and what I read in 2017.

  • I read 40/50 books in 2017. Less comics.
  • 6/40 I did not finish. Some I intend to return to because I own them.
  • 17/40 were written by women.
  • 24/40 were fiction.
  • 2 were classics.
  • 7 were memoirs or autobiographies, but zero were musical.
  • 0 poetry.

Most Notable

Although the memoirs I read were not musical, they were all fascinating in their own right. The one I’ve recommended most of all has been Hillary Rodham Clinton’s What Happened, which was written in a plain, beautiful language that points a lot of fingers and doesn’t fail to provide context to the craziest American election campaign ever.

I learned that if I’m going to review a book on the Internet, take the time to get the writer’s name right. Worst person’s name to mess up? Scaachi Koul, who’s One Day We’ll Be Dead and None of This Will Matter, was awesome. To be fair, I’m not the only one who has messed up her name. She’s even written about it on Buzzfeed.

I was loaned a copy of The Fifth Sacred Thing by Starhawk and I zipped through those 600+ pages of that post-apocalyptic utopian egrarian matriarchal universe and then wished it really did exist. Except for the part where there’s still societies that want to take all of that away.

Russell Brand’s Revolution is a great read, but he spoke to exactly one female expert. His entire thesis is based on the ideas of male thinkers and I think there’s a serious flaw in that. I like the idea that revolution can come from love, but how can you conceive of that idea and then completely ignore an entire section of humanity that bases almost all of their life choices on love? I mean, hello!

Finally, I think this thought that I tweeted out a few days ago sums up my experience of 2017 best:

To that end, I’m making a few new challenges for 2018.

2018 Reading Goals

  1. Read 50 books.
  2. Only women.
  3. Half pre-2000, half-post.
  4. Review them on the Punnery.

We’ll see how well this goes! Happy 2018, everyone! Wishing you all happiness, health, success, and joy, plus some time to read 🙂

Previous years: 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012

Rules for My Yearlong Shopping Ban

Clara_Peeters_-_Still_Life_with_Cheeses,_Almonds_and_Pretzels

Based on Cait Flanders’ shopping ban, I’ve decided that I’m going to commit to a yearlong shopping ban in 2018. The reason I want to do this is because I have some pretty big goals in 2018.

2018: The Year of Simpler Living

  1. Pay down my debt
  2. Complete a yearlong shopping ban.
  3. Improve my income by 25%.
  4. Track my income and expenses for the year.
  5. Experience all the fun and FREE things one can do in Hamilton.

I’m going to base most of my shopping ban rules on Cait’s rules because they’re pretty simple and – I’m hoping – easy to follow.

What I’m allowed to shop for:

  1. Basic groceries (cutting down on the fancy cheeses!)
  2. Personal hygeine products (shampoo, conditioner, tampons, etc.)
  3. Any minimal makeup I regularly use (only after the previous makeup has been used up)
  4. Cleaning products
  5. Supplies for gifts (I love to knit and crochet, so guess what you’re all getting for your birthdays and Christmas in 2018?)
  6. Clothing that needs replacing.
  7. Business expenses (but nothing that isn’t absolutely necessary.)

What I’m not allowed to shop for:

  1. Concert tickets (This one’s going to be hard, but there are a ton of free shows in Hamilton. We’re a music city!)
  2. No fancy cheeses!
  3. Extraneous makeup, personal products, clothing, or shoes (nail polishes, lipsticks, lotions, etc. I got plenty of clothes AND lotions!)
  4. Books, magazines, notebooks, cards (This year I’m going to shop my bookshelf, then donate the books. I also have enough notebooks to last me the year and then some. I can also make my own cards because I have cardstock that can easily be turned into cards.)
  5. Household decor (My new place is already filled to the brim with stuff that I need to find new homes for anyway.)
  6. Electronics and appliances (again – no room for them! And I’ve found that I’m actually getting by just fine without them anyway.)

I’m also going to do my best to use services like Bunz Trading Zone Hamilton and Buds Tradiing Zone Hamilton on Facebook to trade for things. That way I can find new homes for my possessions, creating more space, and I will be able to save some money as well.

Featured Image: Clara Peeters – Still Life with Cheeses, Almonds and Pretzels, 1685 (Wikipedia)